Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note, where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health. 

This week we are going to talk about an over the counter (OTC) hormone supplement called DHEA. 

You’ve probably heard of it as a supplement (which it is), but it’s also a very powerful hormone. 

In fact, it’s so powerful that it’s banned by a lot of world doping organizations (which means athletes can’t take it). 

But for the aging human, it’s a wonderful thing!


What is DHEA?


DHEA is called the mother of all hormones because both testosterone and estrogen come from DHEA. 

It is produced mainly in the adrenal glands, but also can be produced in the brain and gonads (ovaries and testes). 

DHEA is a very beneficial hormone. 

[Note: DHEA comes from cholesterol. This means that if you lower your cholesterol too much you won’t produce enough DHEA, and then in turn won’t produce enough testosterone and estradiol. This leads to a cascade of other declining hormones such as cortisol and progesterone.] 

DHEA has been termed a biomarker of aging because as you age this hormone goes down. 

It is also a precursor to both estrogen and testosterone. A lot of times it is helpful in younger people who are not on hormones, as well as older people who are already on bioidentical hormones. 

This is because it will make your testosterone and estrogen levels better, along with the many other beneficial effects. 

There are lots of reasons to use DHEA besides increasing your estrogen and testosterone levels. 

  • Most people lose weight on it. 
  • Great for the brain (increases serotonin and dopamine levels).
  • Balances cortisol levels (the stress hormone). 
  • Great for immune function. It increases your WBC’s, natural killer cells, and B cells.
  • Helps with stress and chronic fatigue syndrome. 
  • Great for skin (decreases wrinkles). 
  • Helps people with metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, high belly fat). 
  • Helps with Erectile Dysfunction.
  • Helps with Vaginal Atrophy.

As you can see, DHEA is a very useful over the counter supplement. 


How To Take DHEA


You want to take it in the morning because that’s when the most DHEA is produced. DHEA levels are also increased with exercise, so people who regularly exercise and eat healthy will naturally have higher levels. 

Based on what I’ve seen, it is more helpful in women than men in raising testosterone levels. 

Women do need to be careful though, because if they take too much it can cause hair loss. 

The dosage varies. I personally take 25mg. Men can take up to 50mg. 

Women can take 15mg up to 25mg.

[Note: In certain situations we can use higher doses in both men and women.] 

For most people I start them at 15mg and titrate up according to what their levels look like and their symptoms. 

Do you have more energy? 

More calm? 

More adaptable? 

Have you lost body fat? 

Does it help even that cortisol level out?  ( a lot of people don’t think about adrenals and how important cortisol levels are to how you feel). 


How To Measure DHEA


DHEA levels decrease as you age. 

In blood we measure it as a DHEA-S level. This is a more reliable representative of how much DHEA is in your bloodstream. 

The normal range for an 18 year old is between 145-395. 

The normal range for a 70 year old is between 17-90. 

In general you want your levels around 200, maybe a little higher. But that’s just a lab measure. How you feel clinically is what I go by: Do you have more energy? Less stress? Less body fat? 

That information is more useful. 

[Note: If I screen for it and see a level over 600, I’ll look for an adrenal tumor.] 


Elevated DHEA Levels 


In women with PCOS, levels can be high and can cause androgenic side effects like hair growth, oily skin, acne, infertility, and lowering of the voice. 

Metformin can decrease the DHEA levels in those people. 

Low DHEA levels can cause panic disorder, especially in women. 

High DHEA levels can cause PTSD, especially in women. 


Who Should Not Take DHEA? 


People with breast cancer. If you do have breast cancer there is a form of DHEA you can take called Keto DHEA that has no effects on hormones. This still may help aid in weight loss and possibly in bringing down cortisol levels. So it still has use. 


Final Thoughts


DHEA is an important biomarker for aging and a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen, therefore you need to check your DHEA levels. 

Especially check your DHEA level if you have any signs of aging such as:  just not feeling good, have increased belly fat, decreased memory, and/or tend to not handle stress well.